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Pell's 'slur' hastening Muslim-Christian dialogue

Last week's reporting of Cardinal George Pell's controversial remarks comparing Islam with communism appears likely to bring the Cardinal face to face with local Muslim leaders, with an official of the Lebanese Muslim Association expressing his wish for "a friendly meeting" with Cardinal Pell.

The Age reports today that Keysar Trad, of the Lebanese Muslim Association, said a speech by Cardinal Pell last month in the US linking communism and Islam has offended many Muslims. Mr Trad said he would like "a friendly meeting" with Cardinal Pell.

The cardinal said Islam might become the communism of the 21st century, attracting those who were alienated and embittered, as well as justice seekers.

A Catholic inter-faith expert said yesterday that the speech left fences to mend, while the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, which will discuss action at its meeting this weekend, said Cardinal Pell should have been more careful.

The cardinal is in Rome, but yesterday his office sought to clarify the remarks, saying the talk had been about secular democracy's failings, and democracy's need for strong religious life in the wider culture.

"The talk does not suggest that Islam and democracy are incompatible," a spokeswoman said. The comparison with communism was limited to the appeal both made in the West to people's sense of justice.

Mr Trad, who is also spokesman for Grand Mufti Taj al-Din al-Hilali, said the speech was contrary to what the Pope was trying to do: "The Pope and his predecessor have been trying to build bridges with the Muslim community." He said the speech showed Muslims had wrongly taken for granted Cardinal Pell's level of awareness about Islam.

Fr Trevor Trotter, of the Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations, told The Age that Cardinal Pell had been misinterpreted, but that some fence-mending was needed.

Yesterday Online Catholics reported that Islamic community leaders are "lining up to meet with Cardinal Pell" on his return to Australia within the next week. It said there have been a number of requests for meetings with the Cardinal, from the leadership at Sydney's Lakemba Mosque and from the Federation of Islamic Councils.

Affinity Intercultural Foundation, an Islamic initiative for interfaith relations, is also in the queue. Mehmet Ozalp, the President of the organisation, told Online Catholics he was keen to sit down with the Cardinal face to face.

"After four long years of concentrated interfaith dialogue with Catholics, I would be very discouraged if the Cardinal's remarks as reported are true," Mr Ozalp told Online Catholics.

"I have received many, many concerned letters and emails from Muslims, and Catholics," said Mr Ozalp, who just last month presented a series of inaugural Affinity Intercultural Foundation Awards for contribution to interfaith relations. Recipients included the Premier, Bob Carr, Bishop Kevin Manning, Anne Colreavy, Principal of St John Vianney Catholic School and Prof Gary Bouma of Monash University.

"Muslims would like to see the Cardinal more personally involved in conversations from the grassroots of interfaith dialogue. Perhaps then he would be better informed about Islam," Mr Ozalp said.

Cardinal Pell returns to Australia after chairing the Vox Clara committee meetings and will attend the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Plenary which takes place in Sydney next week.

Pell speech hurts efforts to boost ties, says Muslim (The Age 18/11/04)
Islamic leaders line up to meet Pell (Online Catholics 17/11/04)

Cardinal Pell on Secular Democracy's Bluff - Is There Only Secular Democracy? (Zenit 23/10/04)
Pell comments portrayed as anti-Muslim slur (CathNews 15/11/04)
Communism slur upsets Muslims (The Age 12/11/04)
Muslim leader rejects Pell's comments (National Nine News/AAP 13/11/04)
Islam is the new communism: Pell (ABC Radio PM 12/11/04)
Terry Lane: Cardinal sins against democracy (The Age 14/11/04)
Pell says Islam could be the new communism (CathNews 12/11/04)
Democracy must change to counter Islam: Pell (The Age 12/11/04)
Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty
Why we need a better version of democracy (The Age 12/11/04)
Islam could be new communism, Pell tells US audience (Sydney Morning Herald 12/11/04)
Towards a transformative democracy founded on dignity (Sydney Morning Herald 12/11/04)
'Church growth centred on Jesus' (Catholic Weekly 14/11/04)
Australian Federation of Islamic Councils
Affinity Intercultural Federation

18 Nov 2004